So here we are, Europe's largest construction project, a true engineering marvel that has a major interface landing here at Shenfield. As a visitor would you know? Of course, you wouldn't. Shenfield Station remains unchanged. Given the wear and tear of major construction happening, if anything the station and its surrounds are looking worse then it has over any point of the last 19 years that I have been using the station.
People reading this will have their own opinions on Crossrail, a project that has been beset by problems. Whatever your thoughts, the project has largely been completed in terms of its Eastern tie in at Shenfield Station.
Given Shenfield is a landing for such a prestigious project it is a disgrace that our Conservative MP, Tory-controlled Brentwood Borough Council and similarly led Essex County Council have done nothing to the host stations in the borough, I'll include Brentwood Station within that statement. Despite the delays, Crossrail will at some point be up and running (latest communications states first half of 2022. Crossrail opens up new travel opportunities and we can expect new visitors to our town. Is Shenfield Station appropriate in terms of a 'first impression,' for anyone new to the area? I would argue strongly, no.
The project cost is in the region of £18 billion. £300 million has been paid as developer contributions. These are paid by Crossrail in order to mitigate the affects of the project on host local authorities. It doesn't look like Brentwood has been successful in accessing any of this funding.
Prior to the Covid pandemic Shenfield Station had in the region of 4 million entries and exits at the station. This places it in the upper echelon for usage on stations outside of major metropolitan areas in terms of footfall. Again, the station and its surrounds are a poor advert for Brentwood at such a busy and dynamic hub.
Compare and contrast the approach taken on the western interface at Maidenhead and the proactive approach of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM). There we see a local authority proud that it is hosting a project and have accordingly shown a degree of civic pride and is working to make the most of what is clearly seen as an opportunity. It's a rough and ready but running a search of 'Crossrail,' on Brentwood's and RBMW websites throws up an interesting comparison. When referencing Crossrail Brentwood talks about 'increased demands' and 'pressure.'RBMW is much more focused on opportunity. The station and its surrounds in Maidenhead are set for investment for upgrades in part leveraged by the opportunity of Crossrail. It is clear that Maidenhead will be using better connectivity as a major plus point as it seeks to draw business into the area.
It's not as if the issues with Shenfield Station aren't known. Plans were drawn up previously to prevent the mess that sees passengers exiting the building straight into a busy taxi rank and drop off road before they even get to the main road. It is well recognised that use of services is likely to receive a higher number of passengers and the current stops are inadequate. But no time has been invested in trying to resolve these matters and move forward with pulling together the funding to make the improvements.
Users of the Station deserve more. Residents of Shenfield deserve more. Journeys and overall travel experience have been hit by such a large engineering scheme. Ultimately Brentwood has missed the opportunity, again, to leverage in investment that could have been used to build a better first impression for visitors to our Town.
It is a continuing lack of civic pride.
Gary MacDonnell is Chair of Brentwood Liberal Democrats and our candidate for the 2021 Borough Council election for Shenfield Ward. You can contact him at email@example.com
Do you think Shenfield Station needs to be improved? Take our poll HERE.